Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 6: Dr. Candace Speaks!

Hello, friends! Welcome back to the blog! I hope you enjoyed learning about Dr. Linda and seeing the world of OT through her lens. I have been having so much fun putting together these interviews and showcasing amazing individuals, both students and practitioners, who love OT. I certainly have learned so much about occupational therapy this month through the unique perspectives of the lovely individuals who have shared their experiences. I am so thrilled to feature the last person I have for you all this evening. Dr. Candace is a current occupational therapist that I highly admire. We were privileged to meet through the wonderful organization of COTAD National before I began applying to OT school. She has been cheering me on through my journey of getting accepted to and matriculating into OT school. Dr. Candace has poured lots of wisdom and encouragement into my life and has challenged me to be my best self throughout the two years that we have known each other now. So friends, I present to you Dr. Candace as our final feature of the Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series to conclude this series.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Dr. Candace: Candace Chatman, OTD, OTR/L (she/her). I am an occupational therapist based in Southern California. My area of practice began in pediatrics and I have transitioned into academia as an assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy at the University of Southern California. I am a Seattle native that feels more like an Angeleno since moving here in 2003. My passions are God, my family, and friends, finding fulfilling work with children and families- whether that be in practice or the community- and working towards a more equitable, accessible, and diverse Occupational Therapy academy. 

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Dr. Candace: When I was 17 years old, my family adopted my niece, who had Down syndrome. I cared for her and our relationship has helped direct major parts of my career with families and children. I started my professional career as a high school special education teacher and special equation coordinator in underserviced areas of Los Angeles. I always knew that I would not stay in that career as I wanted to have a larger scope of expertise in a more flexible job trajectory. I learned about occupational therapy after having decided I would transition to nursing. It was a medical field I could handle and I knew that there would always be a need for nurses. While taking pre-reqs for nursing school, in a Lifespan Psychology class, an occupational therapist spoke about her pediatric clinic and the work she did around the world with children and increasing their access to meaningful activities.  I had never heard of occupational therapy during my time taking care of my niece or during my time as a teacher. I loved that it aligned with my desire to provide care in a more holistic way- not just in the classroom. I wasn’t sure at the time that pediatrics would be the area of occupational therapy I wanted to focus- I was a bit burned out from teaching- but I was clear that I wanted to be an occupational therapist. 

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Dr. Candace:

Person-centered – We work with living, human, beings… people. Not labels, conditions, diagnosis, socio-economic status, clients, patients, or consumers. So our work must be centered on the people- their wants, needs, concerns, strengths, and removing barriers to those wants, needs, and concerns.

Advocacy – Using our voice and skills to make a change in complex systems- whether it be voting, writing letters to senators, calling insurance companies, or providing parents clarity about their rights in IEP meetings.

Flexible – We must be ready to grow and change our perspectives, our understandings, and our actions as the contexts around us change. We must be almost malleable as nothing is really fixed or predictable. 

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Dr. Candace: The depth and nuisance in the field. I think that’s why people don’t know what we do unless you’ve worked with one of us. There is so much we can do. I love the passion and the drive of OTs. I love the potential also. Collectively, we could do so much. I think this is why advocacy is so important so that we can get funding for all the areas in which we provide care. I also think this is why no matter what we do, we need to do it as occupational therapists first. This is such a valuable field but that puts us at risk for other careers poaching the OT scope. This is why we need to go out there with all the things that we can do and with our entrepreneur mindset and our knowledge and ability to apply the IT process and let people know that we are occupational therapists first and that specific area of work second.

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Dr. Candace: My plans currently are to continue to create an academic landscape that is holistic, accessible, equitable, and diverse as the communities we serve. The promise/attempt to create a holistic, accessible, equitable, and diverse OT educational landscape cannot be in words only- get the students in, and then the students will sort it out.  We have to apply as much as we know about pedagogy, teaching, and occupational therapy to create an academia in which all students can be successful- whether they identify as black, indigenous, people of color, or have a disability- visible or invisible-, LGBTQIA+, male, etc. At the 2022 Spring Academic Leadership Conference, the demographics of the field of occupational therapy confirmed that occupational therapy is largely a white, female field. Changing academia will help move us towards the vision of a more diverse workforce. 

I would like to revolutionize supporting OTs to be fieldwork educators. Fieldwork educators are an extremely important part of the occupational therapy education. I’m grateful that my job allows me to address the needs of clinicians which will hopefully impact their work as educators to occupational therapy students.  

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy: Candace Chatman, OTD, OTR/L.

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Dr. Candace: I believe in you and I know you can do it. Keep your eye on your dream and your goals and your community.

Dr. Candace is truly revolutionizing OT as we speak. I love the integration of academia and OT and how you discussed the interplay between the two. It is so important, and I also aspire to do work in academia further down my career trajectory to help advocate for the underheard voices who I believe have the power to break down multifacetered barriers present in OT. Thank you for your words of affirmation as well – that is true mentorship! 😉 It was so exciting to spotlight the voice of both a licensed occupational therapist and faculty member at USC today!

Well Renrenspeakers, thank you so much for tuning into the blog every Saturday this month for OT month! I am honored to have shed light on this amazing profession that I am currently pursing through the perspectives of my guest interviewees this month. I really hope that you all took something away from the stories that were shared on this platform. I have so many ambitions and plans for OT, so reading about other students and practitoners’ visions and aspirations was very inspiring and fruitful. It illustrates that there are so many passionate folks who are currently active in making occupational therapy an accessible, equitable service for all people across the lifespan regardless of their demographics, backgrounds, and experiences. For more resources about what OT is and all of the exciting things happening in the field, I strongly encourage you to visit AOTA. I also encourage you all to connect with the folks featured this month or myself if you are curious and eager to learn more about OT.

I really enjoyed hosting Occupational Therapy Speaks this month, and I hope you all return soon to Renrenspeaks for new content! In the mean time, go and thank an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy student for their dedication, hard work, and drive!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 3: Kayela Speaks!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! You know what time it is! For the next feature on the Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series this month, we have our lovely guest, Kayela, who will be sharing her story with us. Kayela is literally one of the kindest, most honest, and humble folks that I have been so privileged to have met in my grad school career thus far. I promise you, as soon as she walks your way, your mood is instantly brightened because she is such a light! I am so excited for you all to get to learn more about her and understand why I admire her so much!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Kayela: Kayela Santiago (she/her). I am from Maui, Hawai’i but currently reside in Arizona, as I am a 2nd-year MSOT student at A.T. Still University, Arizona. I am an Aunty of 3 precious little girls, and I enjoy spending time with loved ones. I’m a lover of animals, sightseeing, puzzles, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities. I enjoy hiking, fishing, diving, off-roading, exploring waterfalls, and swimming. I am also a lover of food.

IreneWhy OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Kayela: During my freshman year of college, I unfortunately tore my ACL and meniscus playing soccer and underwent 2 knee surgeries and long months of rehab. The difficulty of putting on pants, rolling in bed and showering were just a few of the battles I faced. While I was receiving PT services, I was sure I’d follow that career path because all I wanted at the time was to return to playing soccer. I experienced frustrations towards these tasks, which I thought were so simple at the time, therefore leading me toward OT. I realized how important it was for me to feel independent in what I do on a day-to-day basis and not have to rely on my parents to assist me. It was definitely frustrating having to rely on my parents to care for me post-surgery and during my recovery. The tasks that I was doing prior to surgery were a breeze, and after that experience, I realized I wanted to help people by returning them back to their everyday lives as independent individuals, as well as incorporating their hobbies and bringing meaning into their routines and everyday activities.

IreneChoose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Kayela:

Holistic – This particular word to me is important as it captures every aspect of an individual and not defining nor capturing the individual as their diagnosis. We as OTs look at an individual as a whole and consider the environment, emotional/social supports, spiritual/religious backgrounds as well as cultural backgrounds and incorporate all areas into their plan of care and treatment.

Inclusivity – This is such an important word to me as I believe we create a safe space for every individual. During treatment sessions, we leave all judgements at the door, and we provide a safe environment in which our patients feel heard, welcomed, and accepted no matter the differences amongst us.

Diversity– Every individual brings unique skills, knowledge and perspectives from their cultural backgrounds. With this in mind, it’s so important to provide an engaging environment where all individuals feel like they belong. It’s important to me that we provide equal care and opportunities to every individual.

IreneWhat is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Kayela: The most beautiful thing about OT to me is the ability to create change, and be the change in a patient’s life. My favorite quote relating to OT is “Occupational therapy practitioners ask, “what matters to you?” not, “what’s the matter with you?” by Ginny Stoffle, AOTA president. We as OT professionals not only create rapport with our clients but we create therapeutic activities that are most meaningful to our patients, therefore inspiring, motivating, acknowledging and empowering them toward success while recognizing barriers and assisting them toward independence. The progression and support that we provide is what makes me the happiest as we instill confidence back into our patients.

IreneWhat are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Kayela: As a future OT, I plan on moving back to Maui. Being that Maui is such a small island, I think being able to bring a fresh perspective and new lens on OT can help any setting that I work in. Before attending ATSU, I was a soccer coach for kids 2-11 years old and I remember parents asking if we provided sessions to children with disabilities. Sadly, the owner’s answer was no. Therefore, in the future, I want to be able to create an after school program/soccer club that includes children with disabilities and educate parents on approaches that can be utilized with their child at home as they are developing through each milestone to be successful in their occupations and school-related tasks.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Kayela:

Instragram: @kayelasantiago

Kayela! Wow. First of all, all power to you in undergoing knee surgery in college. I am sure that was a very taxing experience not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Paradoxically, this injury led you to this field, illustrating that we are able to come out stronger and better than before! Also, I absolutely love that quote by AOTA’s former president! I read it when I initially was doing more research about OT as a prospective student, and it just solidified everything that I wanted to contribute to healthcare. Thank you for sharing that. I think this quote accurately reflects the vision of OT and all that we have to offer. And lastly, I love your plan for OT in the future! It is SO important that all kiddos regardless of ability have the same opportunities to participate in sports like soccer to enhance their social participation in life!

Renrenspeakers, that is all we have today! I hope you were able to take something positive away from Kayela’s story today. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful aspiring OT that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 4 of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Occupational Therapy Speaks Mini-Blog Series Part 1: Aegia Speaks!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! The first person I have kickstarting my mini-blog series Occupational Therapy Speaks this month is my good friend and fellow colleague, Aegia! She was literally the first person I met at our grad school orientation last July. As I nervously sat down wondering who I was going to click with that day, she sat at the same table as me and we hit it off! Little did I know we were birthday twins until later that day, so I knew we were destined to be in each other’s lives! Aegia is a very dedicated, passionate future leader of OT. I am so excited to showcase her today in the interview down below!

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Aegia: Aegia Mari Baldevia (she/her). I am a 1st-year doctor of occupational therapy student at A.T. Still University. I love working with people despite being an introvert. I currently work as a Reading Therapist for children with learning disabilities. Outside of the professional world, I love spending time with my family and friends. I enjoy dancing, arts and crafts, and fashion. I am a big believer in the power of kindness. I truly believe that one small act of kindness each day can change the world. 

Irene: Why OT? Tell us a little bit about how you found OT and what got you into this field.

Aegia: Since I was young, I knew I wanted to work with individuals with disabilities. Before I knew OT existed, I already had in my mind that I wanted to work with people to help them become the best versions of themselves. I wanted to help people reach their full potential. To be completely honest, when I first heard about OT, I just brushed it off. I did not fully commit to the idea of becoming an OT until I was a sophomore in college. I would say that my dad was really the person who helped solidify the idea for me. I told him what I wanted and what I did not want. He listened and told me to try looking into OT again. I am not quite sure what happened, but after looking into OT a second time, I fell in love. The rest is history.

Irene: Choose three words that come to mind when you think of “OT”. Define each word in its relationship to OT. Why did you choose these three words?

Aegia:

Adaptability: I chose Adaptability because a big part of OT is helping people adapt to changes in their own bodies or their environment. Change, whether it is abrupt or gradual, can be very uncomfortable. Occupational therapists play a part in helping people lean into those changes and thrive. 

Advocacy: I chose Advocacy because OT requires genuine care for the community. The community does not only involve the patients that we see, but it involves every individual that needs help. While we may not be able to provide therapy for every person, the least we can do is get people in touch with resources that will be able to help them. 

Identity: I chose Identity because occupational therapists do wonders in ensuring that patients find themselves even when life feels foggy or dark. Because of how client-centered OT is, we shed some light on the individual and what is meaningful to the individual. The therapy session is all about you and what we can do to help you improve your life.

Irene: What is the most beautiful thing about OT to you?

Aegia: I love the fact that OT is holistic and client-centered. I find that working with someone to help them become more independent or more confident in their circumstance is a very beautiful thing. To put it simply, we work with people to help them increase their quality of life. I want to be part of every bit of that.

Irene: What are your plans for the future of OT? How do you want to revolutionize the field of OT in the future?

Aegia: I hope to see OT be more involved in helping immigrants and refugees transition into life in a new country. I believe that occupational therapists have the skills to help both individuals and families find their footing in a completely new environment. As an immigrant, I saw the struggles my family and I had to face. I know, if given the opportunity, occupational therapists can find a way to smoothen the transition. The first step to achieving this goal is to teach others about OT and advocate for my field.

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Aegia: If anyone is interested in learning more about OT, they can reach me at aegiamari@yahoo.com.

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below! 

Aegia: If anyone in Arizona knows someone who would benefit from free occupational or physical therapy, they should look into the OT/PT Center at A.T. Still University. They can call (480) 219-6180 or they can go to atsu.edu/ot-pt-center.

Wow, thank you so much Aegia for shedding light and letting us get a glimpse into your journey through discovering and pursuing occupational therapy! I also have a very soft spot for enhancing the integration of refugees and immigrants into new environments, for my parents went through very similar transitions. I am so excited to see the work that you will do in this emerging niche of OT. Also, thanks for plugging the OT/PT Center too! I can co-sign in saying that it is a great community-friendly clinic that I have had the privilege to work at.

I hope Aegia’s blog interview warmed your hearts as much as it did mine. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful aspiring OT that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 2 of my Occupational Therapy Speaks mini-blog series!

Peace and light,

Irene

Reflections Upon Reflections – Wrapping Up My First Semester of OT School

Hello, friends! I haven’t gone completely silent now on yall! I hope all is well. Unfortunately, I haven’t made much time to prioritize blogging like I said I would, BUT I would just love to come on here and announce that I have completed my first semester of grad school officially (technically as of last week)! It has honestly been a whirlwind of emotions. I have been challenged mentally and emotionally this first semester in ways that I honestly never anticipated even being challenged by. When I started my grad school journey, I obviously knew that I was getting myself into something that would continuously push me and challenge me to expand my mind, my confidence, and my talents. However, the unique journey that being a grad school has taken me on is something that continuously shapes me and molds me into wanting to be a better human being every day. My good friend sent me an Instagram post that another grad student shared recently on their Instagram account that I feel accurately sums up a lot of what I want to share today. Here is what it said:

“You’ve changed in grad school”. Then it proceeded to say: what people and family see: going to school/working, reading books, studying, busy as surface-level attributes typically seen with graduate students. The post then said: what they don’t see: self-awareness, setting boundaries, holding space for myself, evolving, unlearning and relearning, imposter syndrome, struggling in academia, shifting out of an old identity into a new identity, and many more challenges under the iceberg that goes unnoticed in grad school. This was a powerful post in the fact that a lot of challenges mentioned in that post that often go unnoticed with grad students were things that I experienced myself to various degrees since July. Things like holding space for myself, unlearning and relearning, and self-awareness are particularly what I’d like to comment briefly on since I feel that they were the most salient concepts to grapple with during my first semester.

Holding space for myself – So many times people would ask me, ‘What do you like to do for fun in Arizona?’ and I felt SO lame for replying, ‘Well, I haven’t really gone out much because I usually just study.’ I can’t lie; I put so many things that I typically enjoy doing such as blogging and photography on hold since I was trying to figure out how to balance me-time while being a full-time graduate student and juggling other roles that I have quickly involved myself in. Though I was performing pretty well academically, I also look back and realize that having balance is very important. It is much harder said than done, but the days that I did take off for myself have been so beneficial to my mental health and overall well-being. I also feel that holding space for myself includes not being afraid to say ‘no’ to the things that won’t benefit me so that I can continue to perform and be at my most optimal self. Holding space for myself is a critical practice that reminds me to set necessary boundaries for myself and to accept and love every part of who I am, my progress, and my authenticity.

Unlearning and relearning – In a room filled with people who are similarly ambitious, academically prepared, and creative, the pressure to stand out and feel validated in my academic and professional success was a lot to handle sometimes. I had to unlearn a LOT of things regarding how to do traditional school. For starters, the more I continued my semester, the more I let go of the unrealistic/unnecessary pressure to maintain perfect grades. I spent my entire life scrutinizing about great grades because it was what was expected of the spaces I surrounded myself in and also so I can get into grad school, of course. However though many times professors and even recent grads told me that grades are not a measure of your intelligence or your potential, it was, of course, still hard to actually believe that and not let it get to me if I underperformed on an assignment or a test. The moment I began to shift my thinking by now soaking up the knowledge presented to me and absorbing every moment as a learning opportunity, I honestly feel that it strengthened my academic performance, but more importantly, my confidence in my talents and aspirations. Unlearning is a hard thing but a wonderful thing as well, for it allowed me to take this journey as a way to expand my intellectual mind, critical thinking skills, and clinical reasoning in a way that is not necessarily congruent with what I grew up learning. Knowing that there is SO much to learn and how to now utilize this knowledge rather than regurgitating everything that I know for a test (to merely forget it all again) makes the process of being a grad student a much more rewarding one.

Self-awareness – Never have I ever been so in-tune with my own thoughts, emotions, and feelings than during this time. Sometimes I feel like I am way too in my head about everything. There is so much that I have processed and so much more to continue to process as both an observer and an experiencer navigating this chapter of my life. I know that I will be moving into a career where I do have to be very self-aware of my surroundings, the people I encounter, and the environments that I find myself in because everything that I do or say will have a huge impact on the folks around me – whether it be positive or negative. Being self-aware has allowed me to filter out what I cannot accept into my life as well as what I need more of in my life to continue to show up as my best self. I have been more self-aware of my Blackness, my spirituality, my mental health, and my emotional health in how they all influence each other and uplift/hinder one another. This semester has allowed me to see myself more honestly, identify my emotions more, recognize my strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, work towards growth in all areas of my life.

Now, holding space for myself, unlearning and relearning, and self-awareness (ESPECIALLY self-awareness) are all concepts that I have heard about in the past like a broken record but I have kind of just brushed off partly because I felt like I had a great grasp on it all. However, leaping into grad school has taught me that I know nothing AND that I know more than I think that I know (it is an interesting dichotomy). These three particular concepts have been super salient and important for me to continuously work on so that I can be the best student, practitioner, and person that I can be in my future.

Well, there ya have it! A quick glimpse into how I have been adapting internally to grad school. I am now taking the time to soak up every moment of being as lazy as I can be before I am launched back into the thick of it all. Thank you for reading, once again! 🙂

Peace and love,

Irene

Three Weeks of OT School DOWN!

Hello, friends! Can you believe it? I made it through THREE WEEKS of my occupational therapy program! I feel like I literally just started my program, but at the same time, I also feel like I have been in school for months based on the content that I’ve been absorbing these three weeks. Honestly, I am definitely feeling the pace of graduate school. Most of my days are spent studying, digesting, and absorbing new knowledge and content learned. I would say out of my curriculum thus far, anatomy is definitely the most rigorous course I am taking. I don’t think that learning anatomy is an easy task to the everyday person, but I honestly have such a supportive classroom setup, environment, and professors that have made learning anatomy a bit less daunting. I had my first anatomy exam earlier this week which I actually did well on so thank God because I literally studied my butt off! I hope I can keep this same momentum throughout the semester, lol!

I can honestly say that I have seen a stark difference in undergrad compared to grad school. I’ve always considered myself a studier and thought that I had pretty good study habits set in undergrad. However, cramming for an exam and then forgetting about the material was more or less something that I made an unhealthy habit of. In GRAD SCHOOL though, SO much studying is required of you every day. Cramming? I don’t know her (at least I do not want to know her). The expectations are much more different. It is expected that you are responsible for interacting with the material that is presented to you so that you can critically think and apply it beyond the classroom. Because there is a lot of content to consistently interact with, I can admit that it has been pretty easy for me to forget to take care of myself and engage in constant small acts of self-care, whether this is sleeping on time, eating my dinner at a reasonable hour, or taking a break and getting some movement in. It is something that I am actively working on, I promise!

I am thankful that I have found resources and a friend group to help guide me and embark on this journey with me. Unlike in many of my undergrad classes, my grad school cohort actually looks out for each other and all want to see each other succeed! I appreciate and admire the cohesive, united, and collaborative environment that is continuously cultivated. Competing for the best grades is literally irrelevant because we are all in the same place getting the same degree, and genuine learning is MUCH more important than a letter grade! This is something that I have been actively unlearning, and it is truly liberating to reframe measures of academic success that society has shaped.

One thing that I think is SO important to my overall well-being and occupational balance is getting that social input outside of school! I realized that after all the studying I have been doing for a few weeks, I missed being social! I really have not explored the area that I am at, so I made it a point today to go out with friends and treat myself to lunch. Social input is very refreshing and rejuvenating, and sometimes it is hard to realize that when you are constantly on the grind.

Overall, grad school has been a time of critical reflection, self-awareness, unlearning, and relearning. I am glad that I am on this journey though and I am anticipating seeing where I am headed!

Peace and love,

Irene

Mid-Week Reflection: My First Week of OT School!

Hello, friends! I’d like to start this post by prefacing that I haven’t gotten an official picture of me in my newly polished scrubs or at my school’s iconic sign. Therefore, I don’t have a feature photo for this week, sorry! (It is coming soon, I promise!) Currently, I am practicing self-care by doing something NOT school-related – blogging! Blogging is an OCCUPATION that is meaningful to me and to be a healthy therapist in the making, I must strive to have an occupationally balanced life so that I can recharge and put my best self forward. So, here I am practicing what I am supposed to preach!

Technically, I haven’t officially made it through my very first week of grad school, but I have completed the bulk of my in-person classes for the week so I will take Thursday and Friday to study and really comprehend all of the information that I have been presented with thus far (and trust me, it has been a LOT of information). So far, I have had such a positive grad school experience! I am thankful that I have been able to connect and establish new friendships with several of my peers because not gonna lie, making friends as an adult can be a difficult and awkward experience. I am also thankful that I am able to learn in person, for I could not imagine learning anatomy via Zoom University (BIG props to those who did so, I give all my respect to you!). I’ve also met some of my amazing professors (and when I tell you they are amazing, they truly are some of the most astonishing, accomplished, and humble people that I’ve ever met). My school also does a buddy system where I am paired with a second-year OT student, so she has been such a tremendous resource in guiding me through all aspects of how to thrive in grad school, ranging from academic success to personal/social balance.

I’ve never heard so many variations of the phrase enjoy the time you have now because you won’t have this time once you start said SO many times before prior to starting school. I am the kind of person who loves to plan ahead and have things figured out so that I am not stressed later on. To sit idly and really just absorb the moment without attempting to cram anatomy before classes began was a bit of a challenge for me I must confess. BUT I am proud to say that I actually DID enjoy the last moments of my ‘summer’ by really just being present in that moment and trusting that I am going to be okay and well-equipped to tackle the semester. Of course, come Sunday, I did feel nervous about what was to come because I have heard SO many varying opinions on what OT school is like.

Some key takeaways that I have processed thus far include the following:

  1. Every experience is different. No matter what people tell me about what grad school is like, I will have a unique journey that I should fully embrace. I can take other people’s perceptions and experiences and internalize them all I want. However, at the end of the day, I am the one that will walk out with this degree, so I should create my own story and trust the process every step of the way without preconceived notions of how I am ‘supposed’ to do grad school. In a nutshell: I gotta do me authentically!!
  2. Grad school is really a full-time job with so many demands and responsibilities. My brain is currently working very hard to adjust to these new demands and expectations.
  3. Time management is KEY, and I am starting to see very quickly how time is precious in grad school. I admit I am still struggling to see how much time is healthily acceptable to dedicate to Anatomy vs. all of my other classes. I utilize a Google Calendar which has helped me schedule out ‘study blocks’ to keep me accountable for my work. My passion planner is still with me always as well. Having multiple ways to track my time is what I’ve noticed has been working for me.
  4. Organization is KEY. I am SO thankful for my iPad because I feel like now I am the organization QUEEN. Lemme tell yall, GoodNotes has become my best friend, ESPECIALLY for Anatomy where I have a lot of assignments that I have to be on top of. I also love color-coding my notes and my schedule, so it has made studying a more engaging, fun, and aesthetically pleasing experience.
  5. Sleep is also KEY. I cannot sacrifice my sleep consistently to finish an assignment because I will always have assignments or readings that I can be catching up on technically. I also must admit, I am guilty of cutting into my sleep time yesterday and I am now experiencing the ramifications of that via a slight headache. I vow to be better about this for sure (I have a no-class day tomorrow so I can modify my sleep schedule a bit to give myself some grace lol).
  6. Affirmations go a LONG way! I recorded a video of my ‘why OT?’ on Sunday when I was feeling overwhelmed with what was to come. It honestly really helped ease my stress levels and center me back into a place of determination and drive rather than unnecessary fear uncalled for.

As I continue my grad school journey, some things that I aspire to keep myself held accountable for is to give myself grace, practice and implement some form of daily and weekly self-care to the best of my ability, and affirm myself consistently throughout this journey even if I don’t get the ‘grade’ or assessment that I wanted to see or something does not go the way that I thought it would. From the few days that I have experienced thus far, grad school is very much not about who can get the highest score on an exam. It is far from that (which I am SO thankful for). I feel like I have stepped into a supportive environment that values critical/complex thinking, a diversity of thoughts and experiences, and most importantly, self-reflection and personal growth through authenticity. I recognize and understand that OT school will not be an easy one by any means and will put me out of my comfort zone in so many ways unimaginable. However, I also am very grounded in the fact that I am in this profession and in this program for a reason that will transform me and the future folks I get to make an impact on.

I honestly am so positively overwhelmed with the amount of support that I’ve had from the community around me, YOU ALL! The amount of texts, calls, financial support, and messages that I have been receiving from people wishing me well and saying that they believe in me has truly been touching and all the more reason to stay motivated and dedicated to this journey. I look forward to seeing what OT school has in store for me and sharing my growth with you all!

Peace and love,

Irene

I Made It to the Grand Canyon State!

Hello, friends! I am reporting to you LIVE from Arizona, ah! I am settling into my first week being here in Arizona, and let me tell you, I have definitely seen a shift in the weather coming from sunny San Diego. I moved here on Saturday with my family after a five and a half-hour drive that mostly comprised of the I-8 East. It was my longest drive that I had ever done by myself, but it was actually a very easy drive (let’s disregard the fact that I got 5 hours of sleep the night before and did not drink my usual 20 oz of chia seed water the morning of). I literally saw the temperature climb from high 60s to low 100s as I continued my journey east. I tried to not use my air conditioner to see how I could handle the heat since Arizona is notoriously known for being HOT, but this Cali girl couldn’t do it as she passed through Yuma (it was already 104 degrees there!). I already caught myself saying ‘Oh, it is only 100 degrees today, not that bad!’ whereas in California, I’d start whining if it hit 90 degrees, lol.

Besides the heat, which actually has been more manageable than I thought since 100-105 degrees is not an anomaly when living in Escondido in the summer, Arizona has been treating me well! Where I am located has very familiar stores such as Trader Joes, Ross, and Aldi, so I am truly good to go! Some things that I have noticed while being in Arizona for four days now include the following:

  1. Arizona is well-equipped to handle the heat. I really do forget that it is actually 111 degrees outside (which it has been the past few days) since I am mostly indoors with nice AC systems.
  2. Folks drive a bit recklessly here, either going too fast or too slow. Maybe it is because I am trying to be a cautious driver since I am not used to the traffic laws here or I am a bit more hyperaware of the road. But I definitely got cut off on the freeway more frequently than I typically do in San Diego.
  3. It is quite dusty here and little rocks can hit and cause a crack in your windshield easily.
  4. Black folks seem to be scattered everywhere, but there is no concentration of Black neighborhoods that I have heard of nor seen yet.
  5. There are ‘cooling stations’ commonly located around the town where sprays of mist are continuously spraying to help keep people cool. I saw this at the gas station and at a few restaurants that I passed by!
  6. Mosquitos around this area are very small but still make my arm swell terribly! I got bit by chilling at the poolside this past weekend and did not even notice it until I started itching vigorously.
  7. GAS IS CHEAPER HERE THAN IN CA. Before I came to Arizona, the cheapest gas station I could find was $3.89, and I was saying that was a good price compared to the +$4.00 I had been seeing everywhere else. In the area that I’m at, I have been finding a good range of $2.83-$3.20 ($3.20 being the most expensive I have witnessed). Even $3.20 is too expensive for me now, lol.

So far, my transition has been pretty smooth. The first day was a bit rough for me because I was physically and mentally tired/overwhelmed (I think a lot of it had to do with a lack of proper hydration), so I did not feel like I could fully absorb the novelty of being in a different state. After the first day, I have had positive experiences with the people that I have briefly met, ranging from neighbors to current OT students at my school. I finally have my own room too, which I am still trying to customize and personalize. I went to Ross the other day and got some cute (and cheap) room decor such as a comfy rug, a lamp, and artwork for my empty walls. After I set up the lighting and aesthetic of my room, I think I will finally feel settled in officially! I will have to change my license plate to an Arizona one, so I am gonna blend in really soon into an ‘Arizonian’ (sorry, Cali folks! My heart will always be in Cali, but my car is definitely in Arizona, haha).

I’ve already entered the grad school grind by doing some assigned readings. I am trying to establish a good morning routine that will set a positive tone for my day. Does anyone have a great morning routine that they’d like to share? If so, shoot me a message! I am trying to get into the habit of waking up at 5:30 am (maybe 6:00 pm, realistically) to start off my day so that my mind is equipped to take on the busy day ahead of me.

This is my quick check-in! Stay tuned to my grad school adventures coming up very shortly! (I start on Monday, can you believe it? Because I am still processing that).

Peace and love,

Irene

Transitions, Transitions, Transitions!

Hello, friends! Tomorrow is the big day! Tomorrow is the day that I officially start this new chapter of my life – grad school! This is my last post I am writing from California, ah! It is honestly quite wild that the time has already come. I feel like it has been forever since I applied and got accepted into OT school, but time has seem to speed to this moment. People told me that the time will just pass you by but I didn’t really believe it until I spent it frantically packing clothes and decluttering my room this week, lol.

I am feeling all kinds of emotions right now – excited, apprehensive, and tired (because I have been procrastinating on my packing lol). I ended my job as a behavioral therapist for over two years just last week, and let me tell you that it was such a bittersweet moment! I am happy to have known that I was able to form powerful bonds with the kiddos that I worked with, but it is also sad to see them go. I did learn quite a bit that I will cherish and utilize as I evolve into a future clinician.

Honestly, I really do not know what to expect, and I think that the hardest part about any change in life includes not knowing what is to come. I have been preparing myself as much as I can for graduate school because I am intrinsically a planner at heart. At the same time, I think I’ve stepped back a bit on that because I just want to follow the process and let this journey unravel organically. Folks have told me that I should use this free time that I have to enjoy it with my family and friends and also establish a good self-care routine because I will most definitely need to ground and re-center myself when times get difficult and overwhelming. I have been enjoying watching endless DCOMs with my sisters (I highly recommend The Cheetah Girls series) and visiting family friends all over SoCal.

I honestly am so thankful and so appreciative of the endless support of my community around me. I feel so entirely blessed, from all of the generous donations on my GoFundMe to the sweet messages that have affirmed my abilities to succeed and make the impact in the world that I’ve been wanting to for so long now. The journey to getting to this point was not an easy one at any point, for I learned that you really do not have control over life’s events. However, Knowing that God has always and will always literally be with me no matter how much I try to figure it out by myself is what gives me inner peace and hope for the future. By next week, I will no longer be a pre-OT student but I will officially be a doctor of occupational therapy student who is ready to transform into becoming a loving, caring, and impactful OT! 

This post was kind of all over the place, I know. That is how I am currently feeling right now! I am really excited to share with you the highs, lows, and in-betweens of my OT school journey! I will try to be as consistent as possible, but you know, grad school will be a busy time so I hope you give me some grace!

Peace and love,

Irene

From Pre-OT Student to Admitted OT Student – The Process Uncovered!

Hello, friends! Today I am feeling so many emotions regarding my journey to becoming an OT. My program recently sent me an email including our orientation day and the first day of the fall semester, and it just got REAL. Like wow, I am really doing this?? I know that the process can be overwhelming and difficult, so I would like to share with you my personal journey with the tangible steps I personally took to get into my top OT schools.

Before I proceed, I just want to caution you that this is MY personal narrative of what worked best for ME. Thus, I cannot guarantee that you will be offered an acceptance if you do every single thing that I did. However, I am here as a resource and as a guide to share what could work. Every situation is different and everyone’s journey is so unique, so I want to validate and uplift that throughout your OT pursuit!

SO! You may be a recent college grad, a current undergrad, or even a high schooler and exploring all career options for yourself. It doesn’t matter where you are in your educational journey, this post can still be applicable for you!!

You’ve dipped your toes in the requirements necessary to get into OT school and now you may be feeling overwhelmed and thinking to yourself, I have ALL of these requirements that I have to do in order to get into OT school and I dont know where to start. Trust me, I was in the same boat as you were not too long ago. I get it – the struggle is reaaalll. BUT lemme tell you, as long as you put your mind to it and remember your Why OT? you will persevere and make it through!

This is what my journey looked like throughout the years in a nutshell:

  1. 2015: It was my senior year of high school and I decided that I wanted to explore OT as a career after ditching the pediatrician dream. I applied to colleges as a psychology major because it seemed to complement OT very well. I later changed my major to Human Development because it encompassed a more holistic view of people that intrigued me and seemed more applicable to OT in my eyes.
  2. 2016: I had a freak-out moment and decided for a few months that I actually did not want to pursue OT and instead wanted to merely become a psychologist or a teacher (a large part of it was influenced by hearing daunting stories about anatomy and physiology). However, my major advisor helped me reason through my anxieties about pursuing this career.
  3. 2017: I began to seek internships and volunteer opportunities related to OT. I became acquainted with a pediatric outpatient OT clinic but was unable to volunteer there due to lack of transportation. I later was accepted to another competitive internship where I finally was able to rotate through different departments that housed OTs.
  4. 2018: I wasn’t getting the observation hours I felt that I needed to be competitive for OT school, so I took a break from actively seeking OT observation hours by focusing on graduating college and preparing to study abroad. I also attempted to do OT-based research in Ghana (where I studied abroad); however, access to OTs were non-existent at my placement and, thus, I was unable to observe OT in another country.
  5. 2019: I came back to the States and began my pre-OT grind. I completed my remaining prerequisites such as Anatomy, Physiology, and Abnormal Psychology. I also sought out additional volunteer opportunities and began to build bonds with the OTs that I shadowed.
  6. 2020: I now felt ready to apply to OT programs after countless hours completed, prerequisites finished, and some money (emphasis on the some) saved up. I continued to do research and began reaching out to schools before applications opened (for me, they opened around mid-July) to ensure that I was on the right track with my OT school preparation. Fast forward to the end of the year – I got accepted to all the schools I applied for!
  7. 2021: I am now transitioning to matriculating to the OT school of my choice by finding housing, working on scholarships, and orienting my mind on personal and professional development.  

So, if you do the math, becoming an OT has been a part of my vision for at least six years. I didn’t even realize that I was subconsciously in the process for so long!  

I also wanted to highlight the different moving parts of assembling your OT application (note: all of these requirements greatly vary upon program, so always do your research beforehand!). This is a general outline of what I had to complete in order to submit a competitive application down below:

  • OT Prerequisites
    • Though you can apply to OT school being any major, you do have to take a multitude of prerequisite courses that assesses your preparedness for the rigor of the academic curriculum. This can include many different courses, but generally, you will have your anatomy, physiology, statistics, psychology, human development, and biology classes. My school of choice also required a sociology course, medical terminology, and an English course. I saw that some schools even require physics or an art course, so it all depends on what the school is looking for!
  • OT Observation Hours
    • Most schools require a minimum number of observation hours when applying for their schools. They seriously range from no hours at all to upwards of 80-100 minimum hours of shadowing or observing. If the school says that they do not require observation hours, I still say go for it because if anything, it will help you solidify whether or not this career is for you. When completing my observation hours, I kept a running log of the days, times, the OTs I shadowed, and a summary of what I observed that day. This later helped me accurately record my hours on my application. Moreover, the summaries of my observation days tremendously helped me develop ideas for my personal statement.
  • Letters of Recommendation
    • Make sure to have a list of recommenders who you know you well and can attribute to the versed, positive qualities that you want highlighted in your LOR. Shy away from choosing a professor that you had very limited interactions with or an OT who you did not really work with because those recommendations will likely not truly highlight your work ethic, personality, etc. in the way that is reflective of you. I personally handpicked professors, work supervisors, and OTs I personally connected with to write my recommendations. Also, ensure that you ask weeks, if not months, in advance for a recommendation to allow your recommenders ample time to write a glowing recommendation. It looks professional on your end that you’ve thought about this process and will ensure that your recommenders are not stress-writing your recommendations.
  • Resume
    • Some schools will ask you to attach a resume or a CV to your application, so you should be ready to have a polished and current document to submit with your application. If it is not asked of you, you can always use them as a guide to fill out the extracurriculars/volunteer section of your application.
  • Personal Statement
    • Honestly, my advice to you is to try to at least plan an outline or jot down ideas months in advance to get into the mode of writing your statement. I struggled with this part of the application because I initially was not being my authentic self and was composing what I thought the OT admissions committee would like to see. However, I scrapped my initial draft and then began to finally write my story. At the end of it all, I produced a much more compelling personal statement. It is okay to take a break from writing! I did not perfect my personal statement until about a month/month and a half or so.
    • A word of advice: Have people that you trust read your personal statement. It is your narrative that allows you to shine among many applicants, so if you can choose folks around you that can give you constructive feedback, that would be ideal! I personally had about five folks read my personal statement constructively. This may have been too many, but it all depends on what you feel that you need for your writing process. Have friends, OTs, professors, family members, and/or acquaintances/near-strangers read your personal statement for varying perspectives. They can offer lots of insight on grammar, content, voice, and even affirmations on your writing skills (which I totally needed). And most importantly, at the end of the day, you can choose to accept or reject any of the suggestions that you receive because it is your narrative.
  • The GRE
    • To be honest, I really don’t have anything to say about the GRE because I avoided the GRE like the plague. Thankfully, all the schools I was interested in initially did not require it! You can email me to hear my personal thoughts about why I did not take the GRE, lol!
  • Supplemental Apps
    • Some schools will require that after your first general application you submit a secondary or supplemental application. Some schools are generous in the fact that you just have to answer a few more short answer/essay questions in addition to your personal statement, but other schools require an entirely different application (which you usually have to submit an extra payment for as well). Be ready to elaborate on your personal statement or highlight other parts of your life not yet shown on those applications.
  • The Interview Process
    • Once your initial application has been moved onto the next stage of the admissions process, most schools will invite you to interview with them. Due to the pandemic, all of my interviews were via Zoom. However, this did not necessarily make the situation less stressful, for I really had to ensure that my personality shined through via a computer screen. For me, the interview process actually went a lot more smoothly than I anticipated! My interviews ended up being an intellectual conversation regarding my thoughts about OT and how my upbringing has shaped me to become the person who I aspire to be.
    • Here are a few quick tips on conquering the interview:
      • Prepare! I don’t know about you, but actually giving a strong and meaningful answer for “how do you define OT?” was a lot more difficult than I expected. To prepare, I Googled ‘common OT school interview questions’ and got a plethora of questions to practice answering. I also Youtubed OT interview questions and saw how different people answered different possible questions. What really helped me was to write out my answers on notecards and use them as a guide (note how I did not say ‘memorize notecards’) to jog my memory of important aspects I wanted to discuss in an interview. Lastly, I practiced my interviews in front of the mirror and with a friend via Zoom to stimulate how my actual interview day would go. Preparation for interviews also means DO YOUR RESEARCH on the program that you are interviewing for! This includes the school’s mission statement, faculty, or any other interesting facts that initially drew you to the school. Interweaving these details into your answers will further reassure the interviewers that you’ve done your research and that you are serious about your potential commitment to the school.
      • Speak with confidence and power! In the interview, the interviewers are genuinely not trying to trick you. They want to get to know the real you. Thus, it is important to be confident in yourself. You have already done the hard work of putting together a competitive application, so now this is your chance for your personality to shine through! Confidence goes a long way, so be your authentic self and that will help you stand apart among hundreds of other applicants.
      • Write thank-you notes! Once you have completed your interview, if you have access to your interviewer’s email, write a thank-you note to them! They are helpful because they first will allow the interviewer to remember who you are. But most importantly, it shows that you valued the time spent conversing with them. Again, I had Googled example thank-you notes and tailored them to make them more personal and salient.

Overall, I have bombarded you with a LOT of information. To conclude, here are some takeaways that I learned throughout my application process worth mentioning:

  1. Network, network, and NETWORK!!! I mean get on social media and follow OT-related folks, don’t hesitate to post a question or ask for help in that Facebook group, and build connections with the OTs, your professors, etc. who can guide you in your pursuit to becoming an OT. I met SO many people who have been beyond helpful through networking these past few years!
  2. Save money because those applications can get SO expensive, especially if you are submitting secondary applications as well! Also, if you qualify, some schools can give you a fee waiver – so take advantage of that by planning ahead!
  3. Your personal statement is what it is YOU. Make sure that it truly shows the raw, authentic, and genuine you because at the end of the day, that is what the admissions committee wants to learn and discover – YOU! Even after all of the revisions and peer-editing, you get the final say on your personal statement.
  4. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! I cannot emphasize this enough. When I had let go of this unnecessary fear and doubt that I tried to plague my mind with, I finally let my confidence shine through in every aspect of my application and interview process. Remember, you have been working at this for a long time and it is now manifesting right in front of you. Claim your acceptance into your top school. It is hard for others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

I hope that this information was useful, reader! Remember, you are amazing for even making it this far in pursuing your OT journey. Wherever you are in your journey, always affirm yourself throughout the process. Becoming an OT is no easy feat – I have only made it to the ‘getting accepted into OT school’ part of the journey and still have a long road ahead of me. If you ever have any questions or clarifications, I would love to further discuss my points with you! OT needs YOU, so you will conquer!

Peace and love,

Irene